FORBIDDEN (Under the Skin Series #2)
They say I need help. Another exorcism. This is not new. This is my life. Today, I expect to suffer at the hands of a man as warped by superstition and fear as my mother. A man who will torture me in order to save me from things that don't exist.
But the man who actually comes to me is different.
Killian is good and decent, and he sees what's good and decent in me. And I don't mean for it to happen, but every time he looks at me, his gaze sets me on fire. He brings me to the light, gives me back my life. For the first time, I see a future for myself.
A future with him.
I burn for Killian-a man who's intent on protecting me. On healing me.
He doesn't get it. The only thing that can heal me is him. But Killian will soon be a priest. Untouchable. Forbidden.
How can I ask a man to choose between me â¦ and God?
Charlotte Stein is the acclaimed author of over thirty short stories, novellas and novels, including the recently DABWAHA nominated Run To You. When not writing deeply emotional and intensely sexy books, she can be found eating jelly turtles, watching terrible sitcoms and occasionally lusting after hunks.
For more on Charlotte, visit: www.charlottestein.net
Twitter is @Charlotte_Stein
I donât know how long Iâve been up here this time. Feels like days, but it canât possibly be. If it was days I would have peed myself. I would have made a mess or else starved to death, yet somehow I donât even feel hungry. Though really is that any kind of surprise? My stomach is churning and churning at the thought of what might happen soon. Every time it comes into my head all of this sickness rises inside me, and only the idea of having to lie here with puke stinking me up puts a stop to it.
The room is rancid enough as it is. Momma shut the windows ages ago, and the heat is making me sweat. I can see it shining on my bare arms and taste it salt-sharp on my upper lip, and whenever I wriggle I get a wave of that familiar smell. The one I never used to get when I was young and innocent, but now get all the time.
I scrub and scrub and plaster my body in deodorant, but it doesnât seem to matter. The ripe scent of my own body is still there, like a reminder of what makes Momma hate me now.
Not that I need any kind of reminder, what with the ropes around my wrists and ankles and the fact that Iâve been here forever. Or the way she looks at me when she comes in to see if Iâm contrite and ready to plead for forgiveness. Of course I always tell her I am, but whether I do or not donât matter.
How can you really get absolution for being possessed by the devil? I could say ten thousand Hail Marys and recite the Bible backward, and it wouldnât make no difference. The demon she sees in me is invisible, and never seems to do nothing, so itâs not like I can just scrub him out or act like heâs not there. I canât stop spinning the room around like in that movie with the girl who has no eyebrows.
The room has never spun around.
You ask meâif I am possessed, I got some raw kind of deal. Seems unfair to have to lie here and be so severely punished, when I donât even get special powers. As far as I know I havenât so much as spoken in tongues or bent over in some kind of weird way, and for darn sure my eyes have never turned black.
So why do I have to suffer?
She says itâs because I sinned, but I swear to God I havenât said or done a single damned thing. Apart from right then, thinking damned. But I know the devil doesnât jump into you for saying that. Most people donât even think of it as a curse anymore. The girls I used to go to school with said all kinds of things, like the one with the F and the one with S and even worseâthat one Iâm not even going to give a letter to.
But none of them ever had the devil eat her soul alive.
And none of them had to wait all tied up in her bedroom, while some awful Priest comes to exorcise the evil spirits out of them.
I can hear him now, climbing up the stairs. He sounds like judgment day coming to greet me, footsteps as heavy as the hooves of the devil Iâm supposed to be possessed by. Each one slower than the last, until I have to hold my breath or else pass out from the tension. Why isnât he racing up here? How come heâs dragging his feet like this?
Because he wants to torment me before this has even begun, I think, and then all this water starts leaking out of my eyes. I pull at the ropes and wish for hands as small as mice just so I could get free. Though if Iâm going to be wishing Iâll try for wings, because Lord I want to fly away from here.
If I werenât tied Iâd jump right out the window, wings or not. Iâd suffer two broken legs and a snapped neck, if it meant I didnât have to face whatever awful thing heâs going to do to me. Beat me, most likely, because Momma would never get anyone who wasnât going to beat me. Heâs going to stripe me from here to tomorrowâwhich I could take.
Itâs the other stuff that worries me more.
The boiling holy water and the drowning and the branding with crosses. She says heâll do that, all of that, and I believe her so completely I make myself bleed. My wrists are bleeding and my ankles are bleeding and Iâm crying when the doorknob starts to turn. I scream for someone to deliver me from this hell, and just as I do the door swings wide.
He comes in, and after that I donât know what to think.
I go silent straight away, but not because Iâm choked with fear. I would be if he was the image in my headâseven feet tall and old as sin, with eyes like winter at the ends of the earth. Then Iâd be scared and screaming still. But heâs not that way at all.
He looks like some ordinary man.
He ainât even wearing the robes and the collar and that. He has on this old beaten leather jacketâone that is far too hot for the weather here, if his flushed face is anything to go byâand even more astonishing a pair of jeans. I swear to God heâs wearing jeans like he just did some fancy thing that jeans-wearing people do.
And he is young.
Heâs so young I donât even realize whatâs going on at first. Iâm too busy gawking at his black, black hair and his lack of an angry beard and his kind of smooth everything. He steps forward and I marvel at how vigorous he isânot heavy and lumbering at all. And when he reaches for the rope around my right wrist, all I can do is look and look at his nice hands.
Theyâre big, but theyâre not the least bit wrinkled or riddled with veins. He could be just a few years older than meâmaybe twenty-five? He could be younger, even though that seems crazy. Momma would never bring someone like this to deal with me. She would laugh at someone like this. She took us away from the church because the new Priest was all young and into love and forgiving, so this makes no sense.
And then I realize what heâs doing, and it makes even less sense than that.
Heâs untying me. Heâs doing it fast tooâlike he knows Momma might come in any second and stop him. Only I can see Momma in the door with her face all pinched and her hands wringing and wringing and she doesnât take a single step toward him, so maybe his quickness is something else.
It seems like heâs horrified about something.
I think the horrified something might be me. He mutters a word as he sets me loose, and Iâm pretty sure the word is barbaric. But him believing that and not wanting to thrash the devil out of me is so not what Iâve been thinking all this time that it kind of wonât sink in. I keep trying to look around him to Momma, waiting for her to step in.
Or for him to change his mind. Maybe this is all just a trick or a trap, and suddenly heâll get out a switch to line my skin. Could be he has something worse on himâlike a thick leather belt or some kind of whupping deviceâand I can feel my body bracing for it. Hurt like a son of a b-i-t-c-h when Momma went at me with that rolling pin one time, so Lord only knows what will happen with this man wielding something bigger.
He comes closer and I wince away from it.
Only Iâm wincing away from nothing at all. He doesnât lash me or strike my face. He gets his hand underneath my bare bruised legs and the other around my back and then he says, âPut your arms around my neck.â
Takes me a while to understand what he means, though. I sit there thinkingâthis must be some other new kind of punishment, and the minute I do as he asks, pain will make me pass out. He might have shockers behind his ears or something like it, and even after I find out he doesnât Iâm wondering.
I wonder right up until he lifts me into his arms.
After which my thoughts go kind of still and stunned. No one has ever lifted me up before. Could be my dad did once, but I can barely remember him. And Momma sure neverâshe would have hated touching me this much. She would have complained about me making her hands all dirty, yet somehow the Priest donât seem to care.
He holds me all firm against his good clean clothesâthat leather smells like old books and the shirt underneath just the same. And when Momma moans and asks what heâs doing in a weak sort of voice, he answers like itâs only sensible.
âIâm taking your daughter to the hospital,â he says, even though it must be miles to Sacred Heart and I will have to go all the way in his car in my worn thin housedress and my stink of a too-hot room and my red hair so lank it looks black.
People will laugh at him, I reckon.
Yet he doesnât seem to care at all.
He doesnât even care when Momma goes to bar his way. He tells her, âStep aside, Mrs. Emerson,â and for a second I go hot and cold thinking of someone disobeying her and provoking her wrath. Then I remember: he isnât just someone. Heâs a man of God and he has all the things she believes in on his side, and no amount of hand-wringing can change that.
She has to do as he says, and she does. She lets him go on through and down the stairs with me in his arms, though itâs only once weâre outside that I really feel whatâs happened. The breezy autumn air hits my fevered skin and I breathe out for the first time in years.
The breathing out sounds kind of like a sob. It comes out loud at any rateâso loud I know he must hear it for what it is. But if he does, he gives no sign. He just keeps on walking to his car, while I look back over at the clapboard place I lived in all these years. Somehow I understand that Iâm not ever coming back to it.
This is it now, this is my freedom, and it looks like a Priest in his old sedan, with my momma running out in her black skirts calling to me. âDorothy,â she screams, âDorothy,â and in my head Iâm already turning into someone else. They will ask at the hospital and I will say.
My name is Dot.
Praise quotes from her last book, INTRUSION (Book #1)
Hot. Intense. Emotional. Sexy. Charlotte Stein writes provocative erotic romance so deliciously you never want her books to end!
â New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Monica Murphy
âSteinâs surreal storytelling is elevated to a whole new level of madness with Intrusionâ¦Stein has a delightfully peculiar voice and makes colorful use of stream of consciousness with Bethâs first person point of view. Readers wonât want to wait to see what she does next.â
â Romantic Times BOOKclub, 4.5 stars Top Pick for INTRUSION
âCharlotte Stein put me inside the heroineâs mind and it was an amazing place to be. I never wanted to leave.â
â New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Tessa Bailey
âBy seizing on the power of erotic language and allowing it to range from rhapsodic to raunchy, Stein has written a radiant ode to the mind-the biggest erogenous zone of all.â
â Publishers Weekly (starred review) for INTRUSION
âA short, steamy, moody read that will have the reader taut with all kinds of delicious tension ....â
â Jay Crownover, New York Times bestselling author
âFans...will be mesmerized by Noahâs amazing intellect, social awkwardness, vicious inner strength, and palpable vulnerability. Readers will find themselves inwardly cheering for Bethâboth a survivor and a worthy heroine. Although the relationship between these characters is a slow-build, their dynamic both in and out of bed is very raw and intense, creating strong sexual and emotional tension.â
â Library Journal (starred review)
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